Sunday, 30 August 2009

The day war was declared

We are entering the period when the events surrounding the outbreak of WW2 are back in the public domain. The Imperial War Museum have just opened a new exhibition on the topic and last week Radio 4 Today programme carried an item on appeasement.

I was working in London last week so I took the opportunity of going to the Imperial War Museum (I.W.M).

(I should say at this point that the temptation to continue the posting on Kropotkin and food policy is strong. The I.W.M. has some excellent posters and books on the Dig for Victory Campaign-or as the Government called it the Grow More Campaign. I did search in vain for the Penguin war time book on running a Small Holding that draws on Kropotkin's work.)

This posting is on the outbreak of war. The wireless broadcast of Neville Chamberlain announcing to the nation that as the German Government had not responded to his note over Poland and that 'consequently we are at war' is playing as you enter the room. We are told that Alva Liddel-who was still reading the news when I was a lad-lent over the Chamberlain's shoulder to announced the broadcast and that he observed that the P.M. was a broken man.

In common with most folk on the day I went I was struck by the letter from Lord Halifax-the Tory Foreign Secretary and arch appeaser- to the German Government formally declaring War in which he write what to C21st eyes seems an odd sentence concluding something like : 'I have the honour to tell you we are at war'. Differently odd is a copy of Chamberlain's diary in which he notes war is declared on the wrong day.

Looking at the front pages of that days newspapers that were displayed around the wall my eye was drawn to the News Chronicle. The Liberal Leader's response to Chamberlain statement in the Commons is on the front page. Lloyd George's speech in the debate also makes it to the front page with slightly better 'billing' than Sinclair. The News Chronicle describes Sinclair as deputy leader of the opposition which is not a title that the Liberal Leader get nowadays. I have no idea if that was a common usage.
Sinclair was supportive of Chamberlain's move. In truth he was the one party leader who had resolutely stood again appeasement. Ian Hunter wrote an article in the Liberal History Journal which outlines Sinclair's opposition to Chamberlain's policy over responding to the dictators over Abyssinia and Munich. When I first joined the Liberal Part 40 years ago there were still members around who spoke proudly of their stand against appeasement. After the War everyone was anti appeasement but at the time of Munich the public overwhelmingly backed the policy and to stand out against it was to mark you out as an odd ball. It was a brave stance and one which though correct brought little political dividend.
I had assumed that the Labour Party would have been signed up to oppose the dictators but as Hunter's article make clear their party as a whole were less than united on the issue:

'The Liberals were also able to offer a policy in distinct contrast to the
refusal of Attlee and the Labour Party to face up to growing threats from
abroad. Between 1931 and 1937 Labour adopted what can only be described as a
policy of unilateral disarmament and isolation. The Labour Party Conference in
1932 unanimously passed a motion pledging the party to ‘take no part in war and
to resist it with the whole force of the Labour movement’.

In the key defence spending votes of the mid-1930s (the March 1935 debate on the Defence White Paper, the 1935 and 1936 army, navy and air estimates, and the 1937 Defence Loans Bill) the Labour Party consistently voted against building up the country’s military capabilities. As late as July 1937 the party abstained in the vote over the final appropriation for defence. This was not a proud record with which to face a Government increasingly committed to the policy of appeasement'
Interestingly when it became clear that Chamberlain had to go it was to Halifax that many Labour MPs looked. The King and Queen certainly thought he was far preferable to Churchill. The extent to which Halifax still supported appeasement even after the declaration is becoming clear as an article in The Telegraph last August shows.
Many politicians started out by admiring Hitler's programme-including Lloyd George-but by 1939 most had seen the error of their ways. Halifax was really very taken with Hitler and he told his friend and fellow Tory MP Chips Cannon that; "he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic"
He recorded himself that: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country." What impressed Halifax was that Hitler had banned the Communist Party and put its leaders in concentration camps!
I suspect that as we mark over 70th anniversaries of events in the WW2 there will be much to reflect on. Archibald Sinclair went on to me Churchill's Minister for Air and as such was responsible for the policy of bombing the civilian populations of cities like Dresden and Cologne. That was controversial then-with one Anglican Bishop openly condemning the policy. I wonder what we will make of it 70 years on.


Birkdale Councillor Simon Shaw is a newly appointed member of the Merseyside Police Authority (MPA) and has been working hard with Southport’s Lib Dem MP John Pugh to get a fair deal over Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) numbers locally.

A month ago the unwelcome news emerged that the number of PCSOs in Sefton is due to be cut from 76 to 58 – a reduction of 18 staff. The reason for this was that Sefton Council has recently stopped paying towards 18 so-called “partner-funded” PCSOs. Sefton Council had received time-limited grant from the Government which paid for them, but this was only for two years until March 2009.

At the recent August meeting of the MPA, Simon called for the Chief Constable to report back to the next meeting explaining the basis on which PCSOs are allocated to the 5 districts of Merseyside.

Simon’s action as a member of the Police Authority follows on from John Pugh’s letter to the Chief Constable at the beginning of August (see below). In his letter to Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe, John points out that, proportionate to population Sefton had significantly fewer PCSOs than other parts of the Merseyside police force area.

“What this did expose is that, putting the partner-funded PCSOs to one side, Sefton appears to be getting a raw deal on its allocation of centrally funded PCSOs. I am very grateful to John for the constructive efforts he has put into this,” says Simon.

“In fact, it has been interesting to contrast John’s considered and intelligent approach with that of one leading Southport Conservative who has spent the month of August repeatedly criticising the local Police in the newspapers.”

The full text of John Pugh's letter to the Chief Constable can be found on the 'download section of the website

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Unsung local hero

I vote of thanks to a resident in Blundell Drive. He lives near by The Green and the Gas Governor housing there. Everytime some anti social person paints graffiti on it he is out there with his can of paint to remove it. Thank you

Bedford Park at the Southport Flower Show

2o members of the Birkdale Youth supported and encouraged by the local community bobby have worked to create the garden displayed at the Flower Show. The video below explains more about the project. What it does not say is thatthe plan-funding permitting is to be installed in Bedford Park. Well done to all concerned

Photos by Richard Hands

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Birkdale Youth Club @ Southport Flower Show

Earlier this week I met some of the people involved with setting up Sefton's Youth cabinet. It was good to see young people involved and intersted in doing things around the community. One of the key issues that concern them -and was also a theme of the event I visited rcently at the Clifton-was the public attitude towards young people.

Well if eveidence was needed some more came along at the Flower show where Birkdale Youth club members have been involved in designing and building a garden . Youtube has a vidoeo which explains more:

Friday, 21 August 2009

Southport Flower Show update and photos

Friday and the sun shone pretty well all day on the flower show. There are lots more photos of the flower show, click on this photo:
southport flower show

The ones in this page include; the Christina Hartley Trophy-she was the first women to be Mayor of Southport (and a Liberal to boot), The Mayor of Middlewich-who used to live in Southport (I was the County Councillor for Middlewich in the 1990s) her chain was given to the Town by Sir John Brunner the long time Liberal MP for that bit of Cheshire, his son-also John Brunner-was the Liberal MP for Southport in 1923 and finally some of the prize winning exhibits at the show.

Biggins opens Southport Flower Show.

The 80th Southport Flower Show was opened by Christopher Biggins this morning. By all accounts he was a great hit last night at the charity event and this morning he was on the show ground very early. Volunteers who were there were delighted and impressed to see him. All day he was around the ground meeting punters, enthusing with exhibitors and stopping everywhere to have his photo taken with anyone who asked.

Anyway judge for yourself, the video is of the opening:

Altho this is the 80th show the first was in 1926 in the depth of another economic crisis-the missing years were during WW2.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Southport Flower Show pays its rent

One of the quaint things about Southport Flower Show is that when the Council handed over the running of the Flower Show to a Charitable Trust the agreed rent was a bunch of red roses. Today the Mayoress of Southport turned up in person to collect the rent,

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Another New Labour project in melt down

More evidence-if evidence is needed-about the staggering incompetence of the Learning and Skill Council. Sefton already has one high profile casualty -the halting of the KGV VIth form college project in Southport-and now we have news that the Litherland VIth form college which is due to open in a few weeks time is £500,000 short of the money they expected from the LSC. The report revealing the crisis is to be discussed at a cabinet member meeting next week and the papers can be found here under item 5. The Liverpool Daily Post also carried a report (thanks to Jack Colbert for alerting me to that)

Let us be clear; since VIth form education was effectively nationalised by this government things have developed into a mega mess. If any local authorities had made such a disastrous job of planning their capital budget all hell would break out.

It is important to remember that for generations local authorities planned and provided their own services in this area without the need to enter endless competitions and work up speculative plans to be submitted to central government. Council did this better than the state. We are all so used to grovelling to central government that we need to remind them that things were better before their heavy handed central planning took over.

In Sefton the cabinet post covering these issues is held by Labour in the all party coalition. Frankly they are so keen to boast about how much money new Labour is spending that their powers of critical analysis have be seemed to be abandoned. It is possible to conceive of a system that does not require central government control. Local authorities can do this job better. This is definitely a quango that can go. Locally elected and locally accountable people should plan these services.

Monday, 17 August 2009


A while back I was expressing my concern about the unregulated use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras.You may recall that a senior police officer was trying to make our council subsidise his already significant capital budget to complete the'ring of steel' around the borough so the police could know who was coming and going and with whom etc. The safeguards -such as exist- are pathetic.
Now Vince Cable has told his Daily Mail readers that he was stopped as a result of false information on the APRN data base:

The officers said they had checked my car registration on an insurance
database and I was shown as driving uninsured. I knew there was a mistake since
I remembered receiving the certificate and insisted on a check with the
There was an error on the database. I was driving legally. The
officers were courteous to a fault and apologised for the inconvenience. But if
I had been a nervous teenager or simply lacking the confidence to insist on a
check, there might have been an unhappier turn of events.

Now the point is not if Vince had to put up with some hassle but rather that there is no legal structure around these actions and seeminly little understanding from the police of the issues. What chance today for an investigatitive journalist looking into police corruption?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

'The treatment of charges by the banks borders on the scandalous

'The treatment of charges by the banks borders on the scandalous' so says Nick Clegg in a letter to the online The website, a favourite of my colleague Simon Shaw, wrote to Cameron challenging him to say how he would deal with the issue of bank charges. Cameron has said they are unfair but todate he has not backed any policy to have them refunded. After three weeks without a reply from Cameron Nick Clegg has moved into the vacum created by Cameron's silence and has written to Martin Lewis of the online journal:

Dear Martin,
As a subscriber to your weekly email, I saw your recent
comments on unfair banking charges. I couldn't agree more with you about the
scandalous nature of these charges.
The Liberal Democrats have taken a strong stance on this for a long time - in particular, in our manifesto for complete reform of Britain's banking and financial institutions "A New Deal for the City", launched in May 2008 where we stated:

"The treatment of charges by the banks borders on the scandalous. It is a continuation of the practice described above: a protected industry seeking to maximise profits by exploiting the weakness of individual consumers who lack information and sophisticated knowledge of products or legal advice. The principle should be established that bank charges must be transparent and cost based."

In your email, you made a further suggestion that banks should have to pay back all unfair charges automatically if the courts do rule against them. This struck me as an extremely good idea that we should do all we can to put in place. Vince Cable, my shadow Chancellor, and I would be delighted to support your campaign.
We will put a motion before Parliament setting out our support for your idea as soon as the recess is over, which will hopefully put pressure on the government and the banks to act to return the money they so unfairly took from
Finally, I'm really looking forward to receiving the manifesto
you've been compiling on your site regarding other consumer issues. And I'm
pleased to be able to let you know we will be having a debate on consumer
protection at our conference in the autumn, where we hope to adopt some strong
new policies for our manifesto.
All the best,

Nick Clegg

It is well worth looking at the website and following the campaign, if you want to go straight to the story about Nick Clegg's support for legislation on unfair bank charges, click here

Monday, 10 August 2009

Haig Ave on a sunny afternoon

Saturday afternoon saw me at Haig Ave to watch Southport take on Blue Sq new comers Gloucester City. It was an entertaining match with 3 good goals from Southport giving them a deserved victory. Fuller details are on the clubs website It was good to see Earl Davis score-his first goal after 6 years with the club. I understand that a supporter, Steve Wignall, has pledged £200 to Trust in Yellow-the supporters group-for every goal Earl scores. He must of thought his money was safe...

Some of the new signings looked promising and certainly the new striker has lots of pace. The next two home game are against Stalybridge & Harrogate who like Southport have been close to promotion in recent years and so will provide a better bench mark for the season. Talking to folk after the match it was clear that they were pleased with the performance and I suspect a bigger crowd will come to Haig Ave when the Yorkshire side come.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Kropotkin, allotments and new food policy

It is National allotment week and the Independent today has done a two page spread. They also carry the story that Hilary Benn is going to announce a new food policy tomorrow which will put much greater emphasis on Britain being more self sufficient in food. This is in the context of the expanding demand from the BRIC economies who it is supposed will attract a large proportion of the worlds food production to satisfy their growing middle class.

Not since the Dig for Victory campaign in the Second World War has Britain even approached self sufficiency-and for all the fashionable folk turning to allotments few would imagine that a significant contribution will come from the grow your own section.

Liberal campaigns at the turn of the C19/C20 for allotments and the belief that 'one acre and a cow' would guarantee Independence and self sufficiency are distant. Much of allotment legislation does still rely on the work of the 1906 parliament but those using its provisions to get allotments today do so as a leisure pursuit not as a way of feeding their families.

Enter Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin greatly influenced progressive Liberals and those around the Rainbow Circle. L.T. Hobhouse and J.A. Hobson the key thinkers of the New Liberalism were particulary impressed with his writings. The Journal of Liberal History Issue 55 carries an article by Alison Holmes illustrating this point. She writes:

'Prince Peter Kropotkin is particularly interesting in this
context because, although not often mentioned, he was a significant
influence on Hobhouse and Hobson as well as on other
socialists at the time. .........He
engaged with social Darwinism, or at least its popularised
version, by refuting the premise of ‘all against all’ and
making a detailed biological argument for the survival of the
species, not of individuals. His theories of ‘mutualism’ and
‘mutual aid’ provided a new view of the community crucial to
the New Liberalism a kind of halfway
house between the traditional Liberal night-watchman state
and state control. However, they also put Kropotkin fundamentally
at odds not only with Spencer and Darwin but with the Fabians,
who were focused on a much more rational or mechanical
top-down version of society.
This division would continue throughout the century.
Kropotkin created, in effect,an early type of communitarianism,
a term coined in 1841. ‘Mutualism’ - a term also used by Hobhouse – deliberately
placed the individual within the context of the community. His
ideas were based on his belief that each individual understands
and respects their links with the larger whole.

Later generation of Liberals took up Kropotkin. The Red Guard Young Liberals published a poster with-allegedly-a quote from Kropotkin's pamphlet 'Appeal to the Young' on it. Five or six years later I was putting together a series of pamphlets that the Young Liberals published in 1974 and chose 'Appeal to the Young' as one of them ( I noticed that a copy appeared on Ebay for sale recently) Sadly the quote from the poster doesn't actually appear in the essay!

For our generation it was not only Kropotkin's ideas around 'Mutual Aid' that we found attractive but his 'green' ideas especially in his book 'Factory Fields and Workshops'. This publication did impact on Liberals at the times especially those like Howard developing the idea of 'garden suburbs'. The book was republished in 1974 with a commentary by Colin Ward. In the book-and this is where we get back to allotments-Kropotkin argued that if food production was small scale 'allotment-like' then the level of production would dramatically expand. His ideas influenced Gandhi and Tolstoy as well as the Dig for Victory campaign.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Southport Cultural Centre-updated

There has been much interest in the future of the Southport Arts Center complex including the Library and Art Gallery. The buildings are in need of renovation. At a recent presentation to councillors in Southport it became clear that action needs to be taken.
When the building was last 'renovated' it was a bit of a botched job by all accounts. Work clearly needs to be done on the electrics, the roof and structure. It seems at least probable that it would have to close in the short term whether we go ahead with this project or not. Ronnie Fearn was appearing in Panto this year and allegedly had to bring a bucket on with him to catch the rain from the leaking roof.

So the search has been on for alternative premises. Ronnie-who as cabinet member for Leisure/Art/Tourism -made it clear that he was not happy with the urgency that this had been treated and had himself pushed from facilities like Church Halls to be explored. He announced at the meeting that he hope an agreement would soon be signed. The initial trawl of empty shops etc yielded nothing. It is ridiculous that the property companies would rather keep empty properties than lower their rents. It makes you believe in site value rating.

As always there was a choice between doing a patch up job-fully funded by the council or seeking external funds to do a 'once in a generation' make over. If external funding was available then there can be little doubt which is the best option.

We were told at an early briefing of Southport councillors at the art gallery (very few Tories turned up) that it would cost £7 million (yes I've double-checked this recently !) to do what needs to be done to properly repair all these outworn building...making them compliant with legislation including disabled access/facilities. This figure followed a detailed professional, independent survey. A major problem is that these buildings are all listed and repairs etc have to use very expensive traditional materials e.g. no plastic gutters, even if they match perfectly.

"Why the rush, readers may ask ? The biggest chunk of money, out of apotential cocktail of cash from various non-council sources, is from the government Seascape scheme. But there is a deadline for work to have been progressed which is October next year, otherwise we lose the grant. This can only be achieved by closing all the buildings so that contractors can have a complete site to work on. Sadly, shutting and dealing with the venues one-by-one, which could obviously help the jobs difficulty, cannotbe done.The government's Seascape scheme emerged from the report of a parliamentary select committee which investigated the specific serious economic problems facing seaside towns. This inquiry stemmed directly from the pressure of our MP John Pugh

The complex is a great asset to the town providing a venue for schools, amateur opera and drama groups as well as a place for professional theatre productions and music. The upcoming programme developed for the borough including Roger McGough, Alexi Sayle and the poet laureate Carol An Duffy is typical of the quality of the people who visit. The full programme is here and the Atkinson Art Gallery site is here.

(As an aside I got a flyer from the Art Gallery advertising the picture of the month for August and a related talk. The picture is 'In the Venusberg' by John Collier and is shown on Wikipedia website as an example of his work-altho I don't think they say that it is in Southport-that the picture on the left. The picture is very much in the tradition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and is often dismissed as Victorian gentleman's porn. The thing that amused me was the slogan blazoned on the flyer was 'family friendly'. Incidentally that is not the only John Collier that is in the gallery, his Lilith cause quite a stir a few years back when it was lent to a major London exhibition on the Victorian Nude-it would be interesting to hear a family friendly exposition of the role of the snake in that picture.)
There is little doubt that many of us are frustrated about the council's media response to these goings on. Rumours and anxiety have multiplied in the absence of authoritative statements. We have a good story to tell here. If we bring this off-and we have a good chance-it will be brilliant for the Town. We need to get on and tell the story and explain what we are doing.
After the meeting the council press department issued the following statement:

Cultural Centre

A spokesman for Sefton Council said: "Southport's new multi-million-pound cultural centre has been discussed by Sefton's Cabinet today.

"The proposal, which links up Lord Street's Grade Two listed arts centre, library and art gallery, will include an improved theatre, museum and music venue.

"The cabinet fully supported the cultural centre proposals, subject to the availability of further funding, and asked for a detailed report on the current position relating to the scheme, the financial implications and the project management plan to be brought to the next cabinet meeting.

"A lead councillor will be appointed to be responsible for the project management of the scheme and the leisure director will be giving a presentation of the current design proposals and plans to the cabinet.

"The personnel director has also been asked to start negotiations with staff and the unions."

The one bit of the resolution (which was unanimously) that the cabinet made which failed to get into the press release was the instruction that the next meeting should receive a media strategy for dealing with this project.....................

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Bedford Park Fun Day success

Brilliant . Bedford Park Funday was a great success today. Congratulations to Nova Rimmer, Chair of the Friends of the Park and all her helpers as well as Reg Clappison and the council staff. Lots of people turned up and the sun shone and everyone had a great time. I even did some drumming!

Southport Golden Sands wins Gold at Beer Festival

Champion Beer of Britain announced - CAMRA toasts Best Beer in Britain.

Well there is only one category that really matters:

Best Bitter category Gold - Southport, Golden Sands (Southport, Lancs)
Silver - Buntingford, Britannia (Royston, Hertfordshire)
Joint Bronze - Evan Evans, Cwrw (Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire)
Joint Bronze - Thornbridge, Lord Marples (Bakewell, Derbyshire)
Joint Bronze - Vale, VPA (Brill, Buckinghamshire)

Congratulations to Southport Brewery. Their Old Shrimper Ale should surely have got a mention in the Winter beer category. Maybe next year.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Scarisbrick Ave

The Royal Bank of Scotland has pulled the plug on a key regeneration development in Southport. Vince Cable keeps going on about the need for banks to lend to businesses and here we would appear to have a good example of the failure of the nationalised bank to do the decent thing.

The Southport Visiter ran a variant of the story and includes this claim from the developer Blythe Homes:
Former director of Blythe Homes, Ian Rowe, said: “Both these projects have been hit by the credit crunch. RBS pulled its support for these schemes.
“They actually withdrew the funding they had in place for Scarisbrick Avenue and put us into administration.
“Without the recession the bank wouldn’t have been so irrational and we would have got the work done.”
photography by Simon Shaw-and yes we are still learning...........